Zika epidemic puts Catholic Church in a difficult position
The Catholic catechism states that besides ‘natural family planning’, anything else that works to render procreation impossible is ‘intrinsically evil’.
The Rev Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, an anti-abortion outfit in the US, said that means birth control is wrong no matter what.
That prohibition doesn’t change based on circumstances. So couples have a responsibility to live according to the Church’s teachings in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
Pavone was quoted in a CNN report about the spread of the Zika virus in Latin American countries where health officials have advised women not to get pregnant because the virus has been linked to an incurable and often devastating neurological birth defect.
Said the Rev John Paris, a bioethicist and Catholic priest at Boston College:
I’ve never seen this advice before, and when you hear it, you think, ‘What are the bishops going to do?’
Daniel Ramirez, an assistant Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan and an expert on Latin American religious culture added:
It’s going to present a lot of problems for the bishops to sort out. They’re going to have to really thread a fine theological needle here.
In December, authorities in Brazil urged women not to get pregnant. Then last month came the warning from Colombia to delay pregnancy until July. Then in an interview, a health official in El Salvador recommended that women:
Try to avoid getting pregnant this year and the next.
Rev James Bretzke, a Professor of Theology at Boston College warned that:
The polemical approach, that contraception is devious or demonic in origin or the smoke of Satan, may ultimately not be the best pastoral approach.
He said in the face of such consequences – in this case, a baby who could suffer greatly – he thinks the Church might not be so hard line, especially under the leadership of Pope Francis, who has taken a more merciful stance on many social issues from abortion to homosexuality and is himself from South America, where Zika has taken such a heavy toll.
In Catholic Church teaching, some would say it would be acceptable to try to prevent conception in cases like this.
Representatives of the Latin American Bishops Council did not respond to inquiries from CNN. But Pavone said he expects the bishops will at some point issue a statement instructing Catholics not to use “artificial” birth control.
But Bretzke and Paris, who like Pope Francis are Jesuits, said they think the Church will likely remain silent on the issue.
Ramirez, the historian from the University of Michigan, noted that practically speaking, it might not matter. As in the United States, many Catholics in Latin America don’t follow the Church’s advice on birth control anyway.
According to a survey by the Spanish-language television network Univision, 88 percent of Mexicans, 91 percent of Colombians and 93 percentof Brazilians support the use of contraceptives.
Ramirez said he thinks the Catholic Church might weigh in on Zika and birth control, perhaps at the highest level.
I think the message will be that whatever you as married Catholics decide to do, we will walk with you. That we’ll encourage you to follow the Church’s precepts, but when you don’t, we will still love and accept you.
Hat tip: Peter Sykes and Dave